The USS Belknap acquired her name as a means of honoring two naval officers—Rear Admiral George Eugene Belknap (1832-1903) and his son Rear Admiral Reginald Rowan Belknap (1871-1959). Launched as a guided missile frigate and later redesignated as a cruiser, USS Belknap was first in class in a series comprised of nine vessels. In commission for over 30 years, she sometimes went by the nickname “Bonnie B.”
Ordered by the US Navy on May 16, 1961, the USS Belknap was constructed by Bath Iron Works Corporation in Bath, Maine. Her keel was laid down at this site less than a year later on February 5, 1962. Mrs. Leonard B. Cresswell—granddaughter and daughter, respectively, of the ship’s namesakes—christened the USS Belknap at her launching ceremony held on July 20, 1963. Upon her commissioning on November 7, 1964 at the Boston Naval Shipyard (Boston, Massachusetts), Captain John T. Law took charge of the initial crew of 64 officers and 546 enlisted men.
Capable of achieving maximum speeds of up to 34 knots, the 547-foot USS Belknap displaced 8,957 tons. Equipped with two MK-141 Harpoon missile launchers, one MK-42 5-inch/54-caliber gun, two 20mm Phalanx CIWS (radar-guided Gatling guns mounted on swiveling bases), one MK-10 missile launcher for standard missiles and antisubmarine rockets (ASROCs), and MK-46 torpedoes from two MK-32 triple mounts, the USS Belknap was recognized as the first vessel in the history of the US Navy to transport a SH-2 helicopter on deployment.
Upon completion of over a year of trials and testing followed by a predeployment shakedown period at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the USS Belknap joined the US Second Fleet on May 2, 1966. By August of that same year, she was underway on active duty partaking in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise Straight Laced which consisted of a series of operations in conjunction with US, United Kingdom, and Norwegian forces off the coast of Norway and extending to north of the Arctic Circle.
A return to her homeport in Norfolk, Virginia in early September of 1966 was brief for Belknap as she was called to embark on her first major deployment on September 27th. During this mission, which endured through February of 1967, Belknap worked in union with the US Sixth Fleet conducting port visits to Spain, Italy, Turkey, and Greece.
Subsequent to carrying out evaluation trials in the Caribbean in March followed by a three-month shipyard period, Belknap set off in September of 1967 to the Western Pacific where she assumed a tour of duty in the Gulf of Tonkin (off the coast of Vietnam) with the US Seventh Fleet and Task Force 77. Her primary tasks during this deployment were to serve on Positive Identification Radar Advisory Zone (PIRAZ) Station tracking all aircraft—which numbered over 100 at a time—operating over the entire Gulf and to serve as a station for rest and refueling of search and rescue (SAR) helicopter crews.
Deployed once again in December of 1967, the USS Belknap visited Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines and conducted port calls in Perth and Melbourne, Australia and Tahiti prior to her return home to the United States where she arrived in Norfolk in April of 1968.
Belknap’s first major overhaul concluded in April of 1969 and gave way to further training exercises at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Fully-prepared to return to active duty, the USS Belknap was underway out of Norfolk on October 23rd destined to join the US Seventh Fleet in operations off the coast of Vietnam.
May 1970 marked Belknap’s return to Norfolk, yet only for a brief duration of time. Within four months she was deployed to the Mediterranean for a tour of duty with the US Sixth Fleet.
During the first half of 1975, Belknap underwent a ten-week restricted availability period in which a series of modifications were made in preparation for her reclassification as a guided missile cruiser on June 30, 1975. Within months of this reclassification, Belknap collided with the USS John F. Kennedy on the evening of November 22nd. This tragic accident, which proved fatal with the death of seven crew members, resulted in extensive structural damages to the USS Belknap.
Decommissioned on December 20th, Belknap entered the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to undergo a broad range of repairs which were not completed until the first half of 1980. She was recommissioned on May 10, 1980 at which time she transited to her homeport of Norfolk, Virginia. The remainder of the year consisted of further trials and testing exercises.
Postshakedown availability at the Newport News Shipyard in early 1981 gave way to refresher training at Guantanamo Bay from April through June followed by missile testing in the Caribbean. The ensuing years would consist primarily of fleet exercises, NATO operations, and further refresher training.
Notification of Belknap’s appointment to serve as the permanent flagship for the Sixth Fleet in January of 1985 required a nine-month flagship conversion overhaul. After a series of training exercises and missile testing from January through May of 1986, Belknap transited to her new homeport at Gaeta, Italy where she relieved the USS Coronado and officially assumed her duties as Sixth Fleet Flagship on July 7th. Serving in this capacity, the remainder of Belknap’s career consisted of her mainly carrying out numerous fleet exercises and protocol visits.
Relieved of her duties as the Sixth Fleet Flagship on November 8, 1994, the USS Belknap initiated preparations for her decommissioning and elimination from the Naval Vessel Register on February 15, 1995. After spending over three years housed at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Belknap was sunk as a target on September 24, 1998 off the coast of Virginia.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Belknap (CG-26)
If you were involved in the construction, maintenance, or demolition of a ship such as the USS Belknap, or if you served as a sailor in the US Navy aboard this ship or a similar vessel, you should consider yourself to be at-risk for the development of an asbestos-related disease.
According to historical estimates, as much as 25 million tons of asbestos was employed by US shipyards from the time period spanning from 1930 through 1978. The US Navy valued asbestos to such a great extent that it mandated its use in more than 300 products utilized in the construction and maintenance of her ships. These products ranged from insulation materials, to gaskets, valves, cables, pipe coverings, paints, adhesives, and lubricants, among others. The interior of ships such as Belknap were literally carcinogenic capsules that would eventually give rise to the acquisition of several serious illnesses—asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and gastrointestinal cancer—by navy personnel and shipyard workers.
Once asbestos fibers have been inhaled or ingested by humans, they implant themselves in the inner linings, or membranes, of the human body with a particular concentration in the areas of the lungs, heart, and abdomen. The durability of asbestos fibers allows them to remain within the body for extended periods of time which can eventually lead to scarring, inflammation, and the onset of symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and chest pain, indicating the development of an impending disease.
If you believe you are a victim of asbestos exposure, your first step should be to seek the expertise of a medical professional who specializes in diseases of the lungs in order to assess the level of risk for the development of an asbestos-related illness. A variety of factors come into play when assessing risk, such as the quantity of asbestos exposed to, the duration of time the exposure took place, the source of exposure, the composition of the asbestos fibers, and the presence of any individual risk factors (i.e., smoking or a preexisting lung condition). It is also important to keep in mind that extended latency periods (ranging from 15-50 years) are common to asbestos-related diseases accounting for the fact that symptoms indicative of a developing illness may not present themselves until long after the initial exposure took place.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma please consult our website or contact us for a detailed information packet outlining the numerous resources available to you, from both a medical and legal perspective, as a victim of asbestos exposure.Sources
Wikipedia–USS Belknap (CG-26)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive
The USS Belknap Association